Vote for a cleaner environment

A double finalist in the New Zealand Innovators Awards, Victoria design student Lionel Taito-Matamua is also among the top six contenders for “The People’s Choice Award”. Voting closes on 25 September so click here now to vote for Lionel.


It all started back in 2010, when Lionel attended his grandmother’s funeral in Samoa and was shocked to see the sheer volume of plastic waste on the island. The sight so affected the New Zealand-born Samoan that when he began his Masters of Design Innovation last year, he knew immediately what his thesis project would be:  Renewing Materials: 3D Printing and Distributed Recycling Disrupting Samoa’s Plastic Waste Stream.


“There aren’t any plastic recycling systems in Samoa – it all ends up in landfills, buried, burnt or in the ocean,” explains Lionel. “And yet the amount of plastic is increasing; tourists drink water from plastic bottles, and many locals who traditionally ate food off banana leaves now use plastic or polystyrene disposable plates. My idea was to teach locals how to use 3D modelling software and 3D printing technology to recycle plastics into objects like cutlery, nuts and bolts, souvenirs, jewellery and even on-the-spot spare parts for bicycles.”


But before Lionel takes his project to Samoa, he is piloting it a little closer to home: “We are about to start teaching Year Nine science students at Taita College how to use 3D modelling software and 3D printers,” he says. “Then we’ll get them to think about how they can use the technology to recycle plastics.” Lionel says these students will pass on what they have learnt to next year’s incoming Year Nines, a mentoring idea he says originated from Te Rōpū Āwhina (Victoria’s on-campus whānau for Māori and Pacific students enrolled in degrees and majors within the Faculties of Science, Engineering, Architecture and Design).  “Āwhina encourages senior students to share knowledge with, and mentor, new and incoming students to Victoria University. They helped me to set up the pilot at Taita College as they already had an outreach programme in place there,” says Lionel, who is an Āwhina Mentor himself.


If the pilot programme is successful, Lionel and his thesis supervisors (Professor Simon Fraser and Jeongbin Ok from the School of Design) hope to expand the project into other local, lower decile schools, and inspire more students to seek tertiary education in science and design.


Viclink, Victoria’s commercialisation office, is not only funding the 3D printers for the pilot, but is also supporting Lionel to get his project off the ground, and ultimately into Samoa, in a number of other ways.


“I think there’s a common misconception that Viclink is only interested in creating start-up companies,” says Emily Grinter, Viclink’s Student Entrepreneurship Manager. “Our aim is actually to help Victoria’s researchers to get their work out into the community – where it can do the most good – in any way we can. Start-ups are just one of the pathways.”


Lionel says that Emily has been working with him to establish networks of people and organisations that can help with his project and applying, on his behalf, for funding opportunities that Viclink has access to. “The whole team at Viclink have so much experience across so many fields – whatever direction you want to take your research in, they have the networks and expertise to support you,” he says.


And while he’s grateful for the education opportunities that Viclink have made available to him – such as the Enterprising Āwhina Mentors entrepreneurship training and the Victoria Entrepreneurship Bootcamp – he is particularly thankful to Emily for suggesting that he enter his project into the New Zealand Innovators Awards. In addition to being a contender for “The People’s Choice Award”, he is one of 10 finalists in the “Innovation in Sustainability and Cleantech” category, and a finalist for the “Young New Zealand Innovator” award.


“Win or lose, becoming a finalist has already raised the profile of our project, and will strengthen our chance of being successful with future funding applications. It’s been really great to have Emily and Viclink looking out for me throughout this entire process,” Lionel concludes.


For more information, contact Emily Grinter on 463 9604 or email her at emily.grinter@viclink.co.nz